A heavenly place for lovers of vintage metal and machinery, the Reynolds-Alberta Museum is home to today’s subjects, several giant mining shovels and draglines. These humongous beasts are connected historically to various coal mines in the province and date back as far as a hundred years. Impressive at a distance, doubly so (no, a million times so) up close, be sure to take them in when you visit the venue. They’ll amaze. Also touched on in this article is some “smaller” equipment scattered about.
The museum is just a short hop south from Edmonton in the community of Wetaskiwin. Founded a couple decades ago, they have one of the most extensive collections of vintage farm machinery, vehicles of all types, aircraft, construction equipment, and so on. The place is huge. Be sure to take the storage buildings tour! The facility is named after the fellow who started it all and who donated much of what’s on display here, Stan Reynolds.
Let’s looks at the machines!
First up is a large tracked mining shovel. A model 200-B, it was made in 1929 by the Bucyrus-Erie company of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a firm noted for producing large scale mining and construction equipment (even today). While this one is huge, by the standards of what was to come, it’s actually rather compact. The model was produced from the late 1920s to the early 1940s, with just over a dozen made and this is the last one. Power came in via a large electric “extension” cable.
Originally working in Montana, it came to Alberta, in the early 1950s, finding work at a coal mine in Sheerness (Southeast of Hanna). Originally rail mounted – atop two sets of parallel tracks – it was converted to the crawler set up seen today after coming north. Parked in the 1970s, it sat unused for a couple decades before finding its way to the Reynold’s Museum. Moving it (or the other big ones here) must have been quite the task!
Stripping shovels work the face of a pit mine head on and are most often seen at coal mines. They strip the overburden above a seam, allowing smaller shovels to remove that material. Some of the largest land machines ever made include a number of giant shovels (made in the 1960s).
Looking almost like a toy in comparison to the 200-B is a Bucyrus-Erie 88-B built in 1966. A loading shovel, it was used to fill haul trucks with coal for delivery to the processing plant. It would follow behind the stripping shovel (or dragline), which earlier exposed the coal seam. Even though it’s a monster, by Bucyrus-Erie standards, it’s one of their smaller offerings. I know, amazing! Coal mines nurture some BIG things.
This example is diesel powered. Electric driven was an option. They could be configured as lifting cranes or draglines in addition to stripping shovels. The model was made starting in the 1940s, and with improvements well into the 1980s, with over six hundred in total made. This one formerly worked at the Vesta Mine near Forestburg Alberta (today the Paintearth Mine) until the late 70s/early 80s when it was parked. Sitting for a number of years it was acquired by the Reynold’s Museum in the 1990s.
The next machine is a dragline. Built by Bucyrus (before it added the Erie name) in 1917, the model known as a Class 24 and is the oldest such machine known. Steam powered, it moved about on steel rollers placed underneath the frame, the drive cable acting on the anchored bucket, providing the pulling power needed to move everything. A small army of men would move the rollers into place as it moved forward. This was a cumbersome and labourious process when compared to later rail mounted, later still crawler mounted, and later yet again (but only for the largest ones), walking style versions.
Class 24s were built from the early 1910s to about 1930 and early ones were some of the largest land machines of their time. They could be diesel or electric powered and some equipped with crawler tracks. The machinery housing is wood.
This dragline, it’s believed originally came from Manitoba where it’s said it was used to dig canals. Later, exact date unknown, it found work at a mine in the legendary “Coal Branch” of Alberta, southwest of Hinton. When the operation closed in the 1950s it was left abandoned in a pit,which later flooded, submerging the machine. When the Coal Valley mine reopened the pit was drained and the giant machine shipped off to the museum. No doubt much work was needed to clean it up after sitting underwater for so long.
A dragline is often used as a stripping machine at coal mines. Instead of working the face head like a stripping shovel, it works from above, moving backwards as it goes. The largest land machine ever made was a dragline. This Class 24 is big, more so considering the era, but would be almost toy-like when to compared to the largest ones made.
Keeping these big things company is a whole gamut of smaller excavators, cranes, miscellaneous mining machinery and so on. Not all were explored this visit. A couple examples of note include two excavators made by Northwest Engineering (Chicago IL, factory Green Bay WI). One is a 1925 model 105, which formerly worked at a mine in Sheerness Alberta (Western Dominion Mine sometimes called the Roselyn Mine – the same operation where the 200-B worked). Old photos show it at work there in the 1940s and 1950s loading trucks. Where it originally came from and where it went before coming to the museum is not known.
Also from that maker, is a 1939 model 4 which once worked for a construction firm out of Edmonton for many years.
The last piece we’ll look at it a strange looking locomotive with a very long and storied history. Built in the the early 1910s (estimate) by Baldwin Locomotive Works in the USA using Westinghouse electrical gear it worked for a number of Ontario “Electric Lines” and was powered by an overhead trolley much like a streetcar.
In the 1950s it was rebuilt as a diesel-electric locomotive and found it’s way to a coal mine operation in Saskatchewan. In the 1970s, it was sold to the Manalta Mine in Sheerness (former Western Dominion Roselyn operation) where it remained until around 2000 when it was moved to Wetaskiwin. At the Sheerness Mine (and in SK), it was used to shuttle railway cars under the coal load-out. The last train cars were loaded in the early 1990s or thereabouts, and afterwards it sat derelict for a time.
There are several coal mines in operation today in Alberta, but not nearly as many as when these massive machines were in use. Interestingly of those mines mentioned all are still in operation in 2016, to one degree or another although under different owners, but a couple are due or likely to be closed soon, their service life at or near an end. Coal in today, is in the toilet. Not a great business to be in.
On a smaller scale…
Stirling Mine – Commander Mine – Nacmine Alberta
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2016.
Location: Wetaskiwin, AB.
Article references and thanks: Tim Swaren, Reynold’s Alberta Museum, Books: Power Shovels – The World’s Mightiest Mining and Construction Excavators, The Earthmover Encyclopedia, Bucyrus: Making the Earth Move for 125 Years, The Story of Northwest Engineering Company: Manufactured at Green Bay, Wisconsin, Canadian Trackside Guides.
All this equipment can be viewed when the museum is open.